Through the Word in 2020 / Feb. 24 – Justice, not Barbarism


We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 21:1-11; Acts 28:1-16; Psalm 46, Leviticus 24-25.
Casual readers of the Bible often come away with very distorted views about what the Bible actually teaches. One of the places where this is seen both familiarly and mistakenly is in our Leviticus passage today. Many a person reads: “an eye for an eye” and run with it as though this is the whole of how God speaks about justice. Something Scripture reiterates God loves – and that which Isa. 42:1 reminds us is a particular end that Christ will establish perfectly in His return. 
 
What then does it mean in our reading today? First off, we must never forget the purpose of the command is to establish equity, not barbarism. In other words, the concept of an “eye for an eye” is twofold:

a. It prevents the thwarting of justice by failing to punish crimes at all. Sins against one another in society are not to be summarily dismissed. Personal forgiveness is always requisite, but sin often extends beyond the individual into society as a whole. It is one thing for me to forgive one who has broken into my house and stolen from me. To forgive and not require restitution of any kind is good. But it is another thing altogether to let such thieves go, only to rob my neighbor! This is to fail to love my neighbor as myself – and to see to it he is protected from harm. Thus I dare not let the thief go completely, but am responsible to see that justice is done for the good and protection of others. Hence Paul can warn Timothy regarding Alexander the coppersmith who did him “great harm.” (2 Tim. 4:14) The warning was necessary as an act of love for Timothy and others.

b. Note too that justice can be thwarted – or perverted – by OVER punishment. How easily we can see this in our day, disproportionate monetary settlements in legal cases or extreme jail sentences for non-violent crimes. Such fail to recognize that the punishment(s) must fit the crime in order for justice to be served. The loss of a tooth is to be compensated commensurately, not wildly. If someone steps on our toe, it is not to be a Federal case. It is not a warrant for death or taking away the whole of one’s home or goods. This statute in God’s Law for Israel prevents using the courts for revenge and promotes true equity among men.

For justice to be served, we must neither under punish, nor over-punish. Failure in either direction, destroys a society eventually for it is contrary to God’s own attribute of just-ness. 

One last thought – and a good example of why we need to read the whole of Scripture and not take passages like this one out of the larger context. Exodus 21 makes it clear that Leviticus 24:19-20 is not meant as literal, retributive physical mutilation, but shows how a monetary settlement equal to the injury is what is required. This is not barbarism, but rather sound justice. And as Psalm 33:5 reminds us: “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”

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